Why not end a book about the urban landscape with the most famous one in film. Poster art by Boris Bilinsky.

In his final, self-titled chapter of his book City of Rhetoric, David Fleming summarizes many of his prior arguments, as well as giving his closing thoughts on the ideal implementations of his thinking in regard to not only the division of neighborhoods but also the application in teaching, in regards to promoting a higher sense of self-government. After a brief introduction, in which he retells a version of the Greek creation myth saying that humans were granted the city as a method of survival, he goes over the majority of his prior arguments in the book, many of which I have covered in greater depth previously (Fleming 195). However, after this summary, Fleming goes into greater depths about his theory of the rhetorical space, or, as he puts it, “spheres” (Fleming 198). While these “public spheres” tend to be multi-faceted and overlapping, forming a wider landscape of beliefs, he notes that it’s extremely difficult to easily divide a proper public- everything from the level of local power to the size of a community can make or break a community (Flemming 199-200). As well as these problems, he also notices three specific rhetorical problems in cities: the development of a sense of “place,” the creation of spaces that allow publics to form, and avoidance of conflict at the cost of building the kind of tension necessary for political investment (Fleming 203-205). After this, he briefly turns his eye to the public school system in the US, which he states should focus more on the speaking skills necessary to resolve conflict rather than avoid it, a key difference to the “opinion formation” model he’s criticized previously. Moreover, Fleming argues that school should push four values in particular, something he proposes via model assignments: Memory, or more specifically local and family history, Mapping, or the synthesizing of data from your public space, Judgement, or practice ajudicating, and finally Design, or the development of problem solving skills (Fleming 207-209). He finally concludes this book with a bit of an ode to the lessons taught by the city, closing out a book devoted to studying them (Fleming 209-210).

Fleming’s book comes at an interesting time in our nation. As urbanization and gentrification increase at a rapid rate, we are building a new foundation in the cities that will likely define our relationship with our spaces for decades to come. Fleming’s idea, whether or not they are impractical, suggest a new way of dealing with our relationships to our spaces outside of traditional or emerging frameworks. Moreover, an increased self-government is likely the only to deal with the persistent political problems our modern urbanization has caused, where a clear majority of voters live in a minority of urban districts. Such problems, and the economic problems this also caused, can be pretty clearly linked to the rise of Donald Trump, yet another overreaching proponent of “small government” in office. Ultimately, we likely need much of the self-government Fleming promotes.

In this chapter, Fleming finally ties Chicago back the ideas of Plato.

The eighth chapter of Fleming’s book, “Toward a New Sociospatial Dialectic,” is his attempt to tie together what has been a rather confusing work- one ostensibly about rhetoric but primarily discussing sociology. This chapter, placed after the quadrilogy of “Ghetto,” “Surburbia,” “The New Urbanism,” and “Home,” is meant to restate what Fleming’s points were and to justify his method of inquiry in regards to his ultimate thesis. Fleming organizes this chapter into what I would consider roughly three logical sections: reiteration, response, and reflection.

Fleming devotes the first few pages of the chapter to summarizing the points he made in greater depth during his individual case studies. Following the structure of the book, he first restates the basic history, given in the first chapter, necessary for understanding the trends he’s rebelling against- the phenomenon of suburbanization, combined with discriminatory housing policies that effectively made the city and suburbs into two opposed homogenous communities. (Fleming 180) He proceeds to remind us of his thesis of the need for a more localized rhetorical space, centered on a modernization of the Grecian idea of the polis, as well as an improved rhetorical education to teach citizens to be willing to take a more hands on approach in causing change in their own government. (Fleming 180) He then turns from his generalized lens of examination to a more in-depth review of Part 2, which dealt with the past, present, and future of Cabrini Green. Going chronologically, he first returns to his descriptions of the historical policy, both public and private, that caused the endemic “ghettoization” surrounding the Cabrini Green housing project, and how this trend can be more or less directly attributed to the problems endemic at the complex today. He in particular attributes the continuation of these problems to a quashing of rhetorical freedom caused by the problems of “isolation, fear, and silence” (Fleming 181). He attributes a similar attitude to the suburbs he examined, which were seemingly built to prevent even these privileged escapees from the inner city from building any form of common rhetoric (Fleming 181). Having addressed the preliminary chapters, he now addresses the two plans he most heavily advocated for within the book- the North Town Village and the RMC, which he examines within the context of 1230 North Burling Street. The North Town Village, an integrated urban neighborhood, is in his opinion the most viable option- young professionals increasingly moving into the city would help subsidize it, and the attempt to bring local residents into the community would prevent many of the problems of the dispersal option (Fleming 182). However, he also sees problems with it: it’s far too tied to the whims of wealthy, mobile professionals, who tend to white, and presumes that problems of inter-group can simply be paved over and ignored (Fleming 182). This is in contrast to the RMC model of 1230 North Burling Street, which he sees as the best in terms of localized rhetoric, but far too dependent on homogeneity and likely simply an isolated pocket of organization in the greater project, though he acknowledges that a large amount of these communities could form a cohesive city (Fleming 182). Fleming concludes this section with the note that descriptions of the ultimate conclusions are found in the next chapter.

Fleming next turns his eye to what he believes are the most likely criticisms and disagreements with critics. He firsts cites an attitude that he seems to feel that will likely taint many responses to his thesis- the humanist concept of the “complete man,” if you will. Fleming describes this as an Enlightenment era idea of man as self-reliant and self-governing, independent of his environment, which he believes influenced beliefs like poverty and unemployment being tied to personal flaws rather than environmental factors (Fleming 185). He first refutes the emphasis on mobility and cosmopolitanism that influences much modern thinking, instead positioning that viewpoint as dependent on social class rather than universal as in often suggested (Fleming 185), and then proceeds to cite numerous examples of the influence of place on the individual, from the macro scale of Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel to studies on the influence of neighbors on the individual (Fleming 185-189). He concludes by noting in particular the influence of schools, which themselves are influenced by place in regards to their funding and quality of education, which can have longlasting effects on life outcomes as well as asserting rhetoric (Fleming 190). He then abruptly transitions to a reflection on his own points.

Fleming, as should most good academics, understands the need for self-reflection in regards to academic work. In particular, he examines the most obvious question of the work- how, in concrete fact, does the outside world influence rhetoric? While he can cite a handful of anecdotal examples, he’s quick to admit that these relationships are perhaps more complex than he makes them out to be (Fleming 191-192). He cites several reasons for this: the innumerable factors that constitute an environment, the more noticeable effects at the extreme ends of environmental quality, and even the fact that change is by no means instantaneous (Fleming 192). However, this does not mean he will not defend his belief in the rhetoric of the built environment. Fleming, citing another writer, conveys that he feels that, while good design (in his terms) can have an arguable effect, bad design has a quite clear one (Fleming 193). He ultimately concludes by completing this argument, stating that the effects on rhetoric are not the direct influence of the urban planner, but the effects on opportunities the plan had- what we consider “bad neighborhoods” are devalued to the point of creating a vicious cycle of lack of improvement (Fleming 194). And this fact means that we aren’t entirely powerless against the forces of context- no matter how powerless we may feel against it.

Fleming’s eighth chapter, divided into sections reiterating his previous work, refuting critics, and reflecting upon apparent flaws in his argument, is the crux of the book. The previous chapters, while clearly related, felt like they lacked much in the way of cohesion between chapters, or, more importantly, with the book’s thesis. While it’s quite clear he references his initial concepts throughout the chapters, he doesn’t explain the reasoning behind this sociological report on Chicago until the third and final part of the book. Moreover, he feels the need to conclude the second part before stating his actual conclusions, seemingly to pad the page length for no clear purpose. Nevertheless, Fleming finally explaining the “why” behind his argument is quite refreshing after 7 chapters of confusion.

1230 North Burling St, the ideal example of the RMC, was the last building standing in Cabrini Green, but was demolished on March 30, 2011.

In the seventh chapter of David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, succinctly titled “Home,” Fleming finally addresses his favored system for the future of Cabrini Green- self-governance, rather than suburban deportation or middle class importation, as he describes in the chapters “Suburbia” and “The New Urbanism.” Fleming, after restating his previous arguments, as described in my other classmates’ third Reading Analyses and my prior ones, begins this chapter by dissecting the rhetoric that surrounds descriptions of these housing projects, with an aim towards explaining not only how it is seen by the media, but how media depictions have shaped public perception. He takes particular exception to what he feels to be the reduction of the residents of the complex, and the numerous dimensions and nuances to their identity as humans, to the single catch-all of “the poor-” reducing factors often inherently tied to race to a negative descriptor of economic failure (Fleming 151). Fleming takes acute offense at this term because he sees it as a way of whitewashing poverty, giving people the gall to make bold claims about them “not working hard enough” or being a “drain on the government” (Fleming 151). He soon transitions from the perceptions of others about public housing to the perceptions of the residents of Cabrini Green. These are, understandably, more optimistic about the possibilities of the building and more worried about its fate.

Fleming relates the fact that, as much as politicians love to ignore it, people have built lives in this neighborhood, and are loathe to leave it simply because of what politicians tell their more affluent constituents is better for these residents (159). We are then given a short history lesson at this point, describing the efforts of the residents for the past several decades to form a structured local society while persevering against willful ignorance of their needs for resources on the part of the government and the racism that would snuff legitimate African American businesses, a system that would survive until untenable funding cuts in the 80s (Fleming 162). What Fleming suggests in all of this is that the people who lived in these housing projects formed a strong bond through their struggles to create a community despite the indifference of the local government, something that sparked Fleming’s ideal solution for the Cabrini Green housing project: resident management corporations. Fleming defines these assemblages as when “control of a public housing building is turned over to the residents of that building or project instead” (Fleming 166). He cites several successful examples of these: Cochran Gardens in St. Louis, Kenilworth-Parkside in DC, and, most relevant to Fleming, 1230 North Burling St within the Cabrini Green complex. Fleming describes the rehabilitation of the complex, an effort primarily lead by a volunteer force of women discontent to accept the present conditions of their community (169). He describes in glowing terms these women’s accomplishments- creating a community that not only provided for its residents, but had become an exemplar of what was possible among these supposed examples of blight. However, he relates that not all had turned up well for the building- an application to make the building its own unique financial entity was rejected by the state government, and it was now subject to the same fate of Cabrini Green. Fleming finishes the chapter by responding to criticisms of this policy as maintaining “ghettoization,” seen by many as an impediment to African American success and as maintaining the status quo. He argues that a community with sufficient engagement in their local community would be an improvement, and that, furthermore, forced integration is likely to only provoke latent racial tension, actively harming the tolerance many seek to cultivate (Fleming 174). Fleming ends by tying this concept back into his thesis of rhetoric, suggesting that these small, self-governing communities are the laboratories of the local-scale democracy he sees as the primary fix for the problems of modern politics.

Fleming’s reflection on his chosen solution of the RMC addresses not only the society that demonized these housing projects, but the ways in which much of the problems can be resolved without drastic measures. However, Fleming’s optimism seems countered by much of his own evidence. He himself admits that these structures need to originate from a grassroots desire of a community, not command from “on high” (Fleming 168). While it can be agreed that this model exists, the effort to spark the necessary leadership and energy to pull together something like an RMC is astronomical, making this solution surprisingly impractical. While I can agree it’s the ideal solution, the fact is that it’s not a model that works everywhere, making his touting of it as a great panacea to the evils of the other two solutions frankly absurd. I can only hope that he provides a better roadmap to the viable creation of a rhetorical environment later in this text.

1) “There was so much to grok, so little to grok from.” -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

IC, FANBOYS, DC

While the meaning of “grok” remains elusive at the point when this sentence is read, it’s still quite simple to find contextual meaning. If we were to rearrange the independent clause of the sentence to follow a more standard format, we would get “So much there was to grok.” “So” appears to be functioning as an adjective and can more or less be ignored, though it helps to emphasize “how much” of the unnamed thing there is. “Much” as a noun is more or less uninteresting, though it does provide a somewhat obscure tone that fits well with the mysterious verb “grok.” The phrase “there was,” written in literary past tense,  suggests that whatever the ultimate point of the sentence may be, it’s fairly unequivocal that the direct object exists, at least relative to the verb. We soon reach the direct object itself- the infinitive “to grok.” This answers the question everyone was asking: “There was so much of what?” It is now crystal that there was much to grok- but then we recieve an incredible curveball- a dependent clause?! This independent clause appears to have no verb, perhaps suggesting that it may also be in the domain of “there was.” Performing the same operation as earlier, we can assume it would resemble “[There was] so little to grok from.” “So little” falls under much the same interpretation of “so much” in it’s parallel structure, as does “to grok.” The preposition from presents an interesting case. Perhaps this entire clause may instead be a prepositional phrase with an implied verb- “so little from [which] to grok.” In any case, we clearly see that the speaker notes that there are things to grok but a limited number of things to grok from- a tragic situation.

2) David Fleming concludes his City of Rhetoric by arguing that “education [should be] oriented to the ‘strong publics’ of decision making rather than the ‘weak publics’ of opinion formation” (205). For Fleming, then, composition courses, which traditionally have asked students to write pieces meant to help form opinions among the supposedly powerful, should instead have students practice activism, taking charge of fixing the problems of his or her society rather than relying on others to.  In other words, Fleming desires a transition from a reactive public to an active public.

The ideal point of the essays about our physical space is to analyze what sort of rhetoric emerges from it, whether it is positive or negative, and ultimately how to rectify it. Otherwise all all we’re doing is blabbing about a park or burger joint for no good reason.

3) While the content of this section is relatively similar either way, the argument primarily being one of ethos (namely the ethos of teaching vis a vis asking questions in class), the actual video clip adds a large volume of pathos- his emotional reaction to the indoctrination of complacency in the American school system suggests this is a personal issue for him. It’s perhaps interesting to see the effects of written versus spoken language when it comes to a writer evidently most famous for his explorations of how language influences us.

It’s not exactly easy for me to add content to this sort of thing, considering how it’s mainly based off of textual or embedded media. However, this made me laugh, so here it goes.

The Roman forum was a prime example of the Commonplaces Fleming desires.

David Fleming, in his third chapter of City of Rhetoric, entitled “A New Civic Map For Our Time,” states his greatest concern about modern democracy- namely, its focus on the elected representative rather than the individual. On top of this, he turns his attention in particular to the various microcosms, namely the neighborhood and the city itself, that could feasibly fit his ideal polis, and discusses how they do and don’t fit the criteria necessary for this form of self-government.

To begin, Fleming addresses the prevailing arena of political expression in the modern United States- namely the nation-state. More specifically, Fleming argues that the prevalence of the federal, as opposed to more local, government has created a feedback loop in the education system, where the need for a shared national rhetoric feeds into ideas of what he calls a “weak public,” a body of political citizens whose mainly influence is that of opinion formation, being those “who [help] chose the problem-solvers, and [are], at worst, a mere onlooker of others’ problem-solving” (41). Furthermore, Fleming claims that this ties into American rhetorical education, something he sees as unique in form and content to the education systems of the US, which spend of their time on essays meant to influence one’s opinion, rather than spur anyone to action (41). The solution he sees is a need to move towards a more active form of rhetorical education, where the politics of organization and cooperation come into play.

After this, Fleming addresses the two potential bastions of the polis within our local spaces: the neighborhood and the metropolis. According to Fleming, while conceptions of the neighborhood in a non-formalized sense can be traced back to Classical Greece, the emergence of the modern neighborhood occurred in New York under the city planner Clarence Perry in 1929 (46). Fleming goes on to explain that while the neighborhood was arguably an ideal way of organization to comply with the arbitrary polis size he inherits from Aristotle, the lack of real political power and the trend towards homogeneity made it almost useless as an expression of local government. He contrasts this with the metropolis, the categorical combination of a city and its outlying areas. This, while diverse enough for the proper political heterogeneity necessary for a polis, is far too large. He ultimately proposes the concept of a district, an ideal bloc of 50,000 to 100,000 people which is large enough to foster debate but small enough to work for its own self interests (Fleming 57).

Fleming’s concepts of the polis leads to several discussions of how it is not reflected in any modern conception of government, including in modern neighborhoods, cities, or metropolitan areas, or why this system had proven faulty in the past. While it remains to be seen in this book as to how Fleming plans to apply his concepts to the wider world, it’s already readily apparent that he intends to demonstrate the problems associated with many concepts of local governments, and how these apply to the greater world at large. Ultimately, the strength of his argument will come down to the success of it in practice, rather than in baseless theory.

Works Cited

Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric. SUNY Press, 2008.